Katrina first-responders leave cruise ships

/ Source: The Associated Press

Tour buses and rental trucks waited Wednesday morning to vacate police, firefighters and other Hurricane Katrina first-responders from cruise ships they’ve called home since the storm devastated the city in August.

The emergency workers and their families — about 1,000 people in all — were told they had to leave by March 1 because the ships must return to private service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

It’s the same deadline set for civilian evacuees living on cruise ships.

Agency spokesman David Passey said all the first-responders and their families will have a FEMA-sponsored place to live, but some may have to stay in hotels for a while. The agency has been working with the Police Foundation of New Orleans to try to find apartments in the city for them, Passey said.

Foundation executive director Bob Stellingworth said the group has already placed more than 100 police officers in apartments without FEMA’s help. But Stellingworth said “the original plan to have them in apartments or trailers just isn’t going to happen by March 1.”

Putting first responders into travel trailers on anything more than an interim basis could prompt hundreds of firefighters and police to pull up stakes and go to work in other cities that already are courting them, including Houston and Dallas, Stellingworth said.